Practical Software Measurement

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Bringing Transparency into Project Contingency Buffers for Schedule and Cost

The application of contingency buffer, more commonly known as “padding” or “management reserve” is the final step in any project estimation process.  The most common practice is for the estimator to use an intuitive multiplier which is added to base estimate.  Unfortunately, everyone has a different multiplier which is shaped by their own personal bias about risk and it is hidden in their head.  This creates a fundamental problem with transparency and consistency within most organizations.

Fortunately, there's a better way.  One solution is to define and configure agreed upon standards that are matched to specific business risk situations.  These should be collaboratively agreed to by all the stake holders in the organization.  Then they can be codified into a configuration that can be selected at the time when contingencies are typically applied to an estimate.  This helps solve the consistency issue.

Project Risk Buffer

To attack the transparency issue, you can use a technique of overlays to visualize the contingency in comparison to the base estimate. 

Project Risk Buffer

New Article - Five Traps that Lead to Project Failure (and How to Avoid Them)

Project Manager Today

No one starts a software project thinking that it is doomed to fail, but many projects end up falling far short of expectations. A recent PMI report shows that a significant number of companies are still underperforming expectations - failing to deliver software that functions as intended and drives positive business results. PMI’s report breaks out project development teams into two distinct camps: “overachievers” and “underachievers,” where the former are delivering projects on time and on budget, while the later is not. In this article for Project Manager Today, Larry Putnam, Jr. identifies five traps that the "overachieving" organizations are successfully avoiding, and better strategies that can be used in their place.

Read the full article!

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Project Management Articles

10 Tips for Better Software Project Tracking & Oversight

Software Project Tracking

 

During QSM’s 40 years in business we have often been asked to help with software projects that are out of control and riddled with unrealistic goals and soaring costs. Project managers often ask, "where is the light at the end of the tunnel?" In honor of Larry Putnam, Sr., who started QSM back in 1978, here are 10 tips for better project tracking and oversight.

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SLIM-Control SLIM-Collaborate Tracking

The “Secret Sauce” in SLIM-Estimate

SLIM-Estimate

For over 20 years I’ve been an advocate of using metrics for improving IT processes. Shortly into my career as a COBOL developer, I was introduced to Function Point Analysis; and ever since it’s been the most powerful tool in my toolkit. After all: size matters! Once I learned to quantify the amount of functionality delivered by a project or an application, I could zoom in on cost, effort, duration, productivity, and quality because I now had a normalization factor to perform comparisons (Cost per Function Point, Hours per Function Point, Defects per Function Point, etc.).

Shortly after getting my Certified Function Point Specialist certification, I became obsessed with the different measures and metrics pertaining to software and IT. Soon I became a Certified Software Measurement Specialist, where I learned everything there was to know about how to measure everything there was to measure in software (or so I thought). It’s a pretty powerful feeling being able to help organizations baseline their current capabilities so they could determine if implementing the latest and greatest silver bullet was really going to give them the gains in productivity they had been striving for. 

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SLIM-Estimate Training

Estimating Program Increment Capacity in Scaled Agile (SAFe)

Scaled Agile (SAFe) is a methodology that applies Agile concepts to large complex environments.  QSM recently worked with an organization that had implemented SAFe to develop an estimation methodology specifically tailored to it.  This article discusses how it was implemented.

Software estimation typically addresses three concerns:  staffing, cost/effort, and schedule.  In the SAFe environment, however, development is done in program increments (PI) that in this case were three months in duration with two-week sprints throughout.  Staffing was set at a predetermined level and varied very little during the PI.  Thus, the three variable elements that are normally estimated (staff, cost/effort, and schedule) had already been determined in advance.  So, our job was done, right?  Wrong!  What remained to be determined was capacity:  the amount to be accomplished in a single PI.  And that was a very sore “pain point” for the organization. 

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Agile Estimation Capacity Planning

New Article - The Three Software Project Development Traps (And How to Avoid Them)

Software Executive Magazine

Why do projects fail? There are a multitude of reasons from lack of up-front planning to failing to make necessary adjustments as requirements change to overstaffing when the project is running late. Whatever the reason, there are steps you can take to avoid these common traps. In this article for Software Executive Magazine, Larry Putnam, Jr. explains how focusing on scope-based estimates, agile forecasting, and smaller teams will help your development team deliver products on time and according to budget.

Read the article!

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Project Management Team Size Articles Sizing

Using Business Analytics to Set Realistic Customer Expectations

I was recently reading an article by Moira Alexander titled “Why Planning Is the Most Critical Step in Project Management” and I was stuck by her observation that one of the primary reasons that projects fail is because they commit to unrealistic expectations.  In my 35 years of experience, I believe this is the number one reason projects fail.  Yet it is competence that few organizations or product owners ever get good at.

 Today there are good simulation tools that make it simple to establish realistic project boundaries.  The results can be used effectively to communicate and negotiate expectations with clients.  

For example, imagine that you are a product owner planning out your next release.  Your team of 10 people has been working on a 5-month release cadence.   A backlog refinement has shown that there are approximately 100 story points to be completed in this release.  The project plan is shown in the figure below.

Agile Uncertainty

However, there are some uncertainties and we need to deal with them in a realistic way.  Since the schedule and the team size are fixed, the only area that can give is the functionality.   Simulations are a great way to quantify uncertainty.  In our case, we are confident in our team’s productivity and labor cost, but we are somewhat more uncertain about the new capabilities in this release.   It is easy to adjust the uncertainty settings and run a business simulation.  The uncertainty slider bars are in the image below. 

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Estimation Risk Management

Estimation Is Good. Tracking and Oversight Are Even Better!

Now that the baseline estimate has been created, and stakeholders feel their inputs and concerns have been addressed, we as purveyors of the estimate have done our job.  In the world of IT project measurement, many organizations will deservedly feel accomplished that they have armed their development staff with an empirically based roadmap from which to navigate the next x number of months toward delivering a product.  Now let the construction and testing begin!  But wait, there’s more!

It’s always wise to have a sound estimate, but for added assurance of hitting the budget, schedule, staffing and risk targets, organizations have the option of tracking the project mid-flight. Just as estimating is conflated with planning, tracking can be equally confused with other one-dimensional monitoring of projects underway.  So many things can change from the time an estimate is created to the time the first iterations are built.  It’s likely that our estimate assumptions will change after some time has passed into the construction process, unless we have reacted to inevitable unforeseen forces.  For example, requirement changes, staff turnover, management demanding the project x weeks/months earlier, but still expecting all the original functionality.  These are all very real events that are thrown at the PM after the project is underway.  We at QSM have provided a solution for this since the mid-80’s in SLIM-Control, a module in our SLIM Suite.

Software Project Tracking

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SLIM-Control Estimation

10 Tips for Better Software Estimation

This year, QSM will be celebrating our 40th anniversary! Over the years, we have helped many project managers figure out what their software projects should cost, how long they should take, and how to mitigate project and portfolio risk.  Here are 10 tips that every organization should remember for effective software estimation.
  1. Capture some historical data on your projects and keep it simple. The more data, the better, but you can get a good start to your estimation program with just a few projects and a small amount of data from each of those projects. Focus on the core metrics: size, duration, reliability, productivity, and effort. 
  2. Estimate at the release level before detailed planning takes place. This will enable you to tailor your detailed plan to goals that are reasonable. Many analysts spend hours laying out detailed plans for projects that end up over budget and late because they don’t figure out the big picture first. 
  3. Use an empirically-based model that enables you to manage uncertainty. When making big decisions, it’s important to see the 90% chance compared to the 50%. 
  4. Sanity-check your estimates with industry analytics. It’s always good to see typical cost and duration trends from projects that are similar to yours. 
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Estimation

Pentagon Acquisition Needs Consistent Data-Driven Approach for Accountability

DoD acquisition

This post was originally published on Linkedin. Join the QSM Linkedin Group and Company Page to stay up-to-date with more content like this.

When the Honorable Ellen M. Lord, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition & Sustainment (USD/A&S) told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Dec. 7 that she intends to demand a higher level of accountability from program managers, you could feel mixed emotions from DoD acquisition professionals. Many are applauding the vocal prioritization on accountability. However, I’m sure struggling acquisition program managers and support contractors, are likely feeling they have a more focused target on their back. There will certainly be other major changes from the former Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (AT&L) office reorganization to two new USD-level offices of USD/A&S and Research & Engineering (USD/R&E). Each will surely be eager to show respective value to the Pentagon in their responsibilities to improve the DoD acquisition process. Particularly, as the DoD continues a focus on DoD business transformation priorities and ensuring that they are acquiring effective defense business systems with capabilities to support those priorities, I’d like to offer some firsthand observations that suggests there still remains a lack of consistency in how we manage that process.

Accountability Requires Consistency

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Government Estimation Benchmarking